Career Tips for International Students

International Students:
Applying and Awaiting for my OPT

OPT backlog International Students

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Post-completion Optical Practical Training (OPT) allows international students to work on their F1 visa status after graduation. Depending on the degree, this period can be from one to three years. This article will be exploring one international student’s process of applying for her OPT. We encourage you to follow her tips and tricks in addition to doing your own research.


Pim is a longtime member of our ICAway community. She has been closely working with Coach Kwan for the past two years. Under Coach Kwan’s guidance, she rewrote her resume and LinkedIn profile. She employed best practices when networking, and used proactive strategies when searching for a job as an international student.

Pim graduated with an M.A in Instructional Technology & Media from Teacher’s College, Columbia University. She is now working as an Instructional Design Consultant at Mosaic, a professional training firm. The journey here, however, was not an easy one. Coach Kwan and Pim sat down for an interview to go over her experience of applying for work authorization.

Coach Kwan: The process of applying for work authorization is never an easy one. Can you please share your personal experience with us?

Pim: Yes, absolutely. A lot of international students struggled with visa delays and there was a lot of uncertainty in the air. Normally, the average processing time for OPT applications is 3 months. In my case, I had to wait 4 months to get mine approved. I have heard of others who had to wait even longer. This waiting time can be brutal, and it is something that we all have to power through.

Coach Kwan: What about the application process? What was that like?

Pim: The application process was a struggle in itself. There are so many documents and logistics to deal with. Unfortunately, my school’s website did not provide clear instructions. Furthermore, the school’s Office of International Students was experiencing a heavy backlog. So there was an additional two-week wait. The timing was not on my side either. They finished up my documents during spring break while I was out of town. I ended up not being able to submit it right away. I ended up submitting my application 70 days before graduation. If I could go back in time, I wish I could submit it 90 days before graduation.

One quick tip that I would like to mention is that if you don’t have a social security number (SSN), you can apply for it alongside your OPT application. This will save you a lot of trouble, and you will be receiving your SSN card in the mail alongside—maybe with a few days in between—your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Coach Kwan: Once you have mailed your application to USCIS, are you done? Is it just a waiting game from then on?

Pim: After you submit your application, USCIS will mail you back a notice stating they have received your application. That notice will have a receipt number, which you can use to track your case status on this website. You will probably be obsessively checking this link until it says that your application has been approved and that your EAD card is on its way. During this time, you can also register for a USCIS account here. My advice would be to keep all your documents and notices, in case you need to use them as a reference in the future.

Coach Kwan: What did you do during the four months of waiting?

Pim: Personally, I dedicated this time to my job search. The struggle here is that when a potential employer asks you when can you start, you can’t give them a certain answer.

When applying for work authorization, you will request a specific date to start your OPT period which can be up to 60 days after graduation. However, if you don’t physically have your EAD card, you are not allowed to start employment. This is why the prolonged wait times that students experienced this past summer were so detrimental in some cases.

Coach Kwan: That was quite a ride! Now that you are on the other side, do you have any additional tips for students who are about to apply for their work authorization?

Pim: I think the most important thing is to be ready. Apply as early as you can! The earliest you can apply for your OPT is 90 days before graduation. Take into account the time that will take you to put your application together.

Get all your forms in order beforehand, you can just drop your application in the mailbox when the day comes. Applying early is my recommendation. It is the only way to get your EAD card as soon as possible. Your OPT period start date is within 60 days of your graduation date. Another part of being ready is to communicate with employers. You can only begin to work once your OPT period starts and with your EAD card in hand. You need to make sure these align. Please keep your employer in the loop. Let them know about your situation and hopefully, they will be understanding.

Coach Kwan: Thank you so much for all the really helpful advice! Do you have any last words for all the international students out there?

Pim: Being an international student can be really tough! We all know how hard finding a job in a new country can be. I am so glad that I found the ICAway community.

What’s especially nice about ICAway community is that it is a hopeful and positive one. Ever since I joined, it has done wonders for my mental health.

I think that the members of the ICAway community are very resilient. They do not let hardships overpower their fighting spirit. So if anyone out there looking for an uplifting community, you should come join us!

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